How do new technologies influence our lives? This question does not have a straightforward answer. The process of innovation is deeply embedded into many cultural and social practices—we influence the direction and shape of new technologies almost as much as they influence us. While we’re living in a period of remarkable technological change, it is not the first time in history that people have grappled with the social and cultural issues that arise with the introduction of new technologies. What can we learn about our own era from studying how innovations such as electricity and the telephone changed people’s perspectives? Within this course we will examine arguments about the social construction of science and technologies by looking at innovation during different periods of American and European history. Are there some commonalities and connections that we can see among the adoption of technologies and practices as diverse as the telephone, electricity, the Internet, and file sharing?
How do our cultural hopes, dreams and anxieties shape new technologies? In what way do users shape new technologies? At the end of the course, we will be able to see technology as Thomas Hughes says, as “full of contradictions, laden with human folly, saved by occasional benign deeds, and rich with unintended consequences.” We will also be able to see more clearly the ways in which culture and technology are interdependent, shaping and influencing each other. Students at the end of this course should be able to
• Understand basic themes in the social studies of science and technology including social construction, mutual shaping, and design-in-use;
• Understand the cultural impact of new computer technologies and be able to trace the history of differing cultural attitudes towards information technologies since World War II;
• Analyze current debates and discourses about new technologies and compare these previous ones from other historical moments;
• Analyze how a new innovation can simultaneously influence culture and how it might arise out of our contemporary cultural environment.
• Develop new conceptual tools for examining technological change.